Birthrights concerned by coronial stillbirth proposals

Birthrights has today published its response to the consultation on coronial investigations into stillbirths which closes on the 18th June. We urge all those with an interest to submit a response before the deadline next Tuesday.


Birthrights recognises the positive intent to help families, who have suffered the heartbreak of a stillbirth, to access an independent investigation about what happened. However, we believe that further consideration and impact analysis is needed to ensure these proposals deliver what families need, without putting further strain on an over-stretched coronial system and unintentionally blurring the legal definition of personhood, which could have serious consequences for the scrutiny and rights of pregnant women. It is crucial that women and families are kept at the heart of any future process.

We are calling for:

  • Parents to have the final say over whether a post-mortem is conducted, not the coroner
  • Families to be given information about what the coronial process involves in order to make an informed decision about whether to proceed, and to have access to proper support throughout the process
  • Provision for legal aid for families to be represented in the coroners court
  • Safeguards to be put in place around the questioning of the person who gave birth, particularly their antenatal choices which may be put under scrutiny
  • Media reporting restrictions to be put in place to protect families’ right to privacy 
  • Proper assessment of whether the coronial system has the capacity to take on these investigations
  • A full equalities impact assessment to be conducted before any changes are introduced 
  • Further consideration of how coroners investigations fit with other processes, some of which are quite new, such as HSIB investigations
  • Consideration of whether other non-legal processes, such as open disclosure, may better meet the policy objectives 

Chief Executive Amy Gibbs commented:

“We deeply sympathise with families who have experienced the tragedy of a stillbirth and know many bereaved families feel current investigations and procedures have been inadequate and defensive. It is essential that the Government gets these proposals right to honour these families, without creating unintended consequences. As our response sets out, we believe that creating a new and distinctive set of coronial powers that permit a coronial enquiry and investigation, where bereaved parents have given informed consent and are supported by appropriate safeguards, is the only acceptable solution compatible with human rights principles.”

Birthrights and partners submit evidence to the UN

Last week Birthrights joined with the White Ribbon Alliance, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Make Birth Better, to submit evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur, about how pregnant women are treated in the UK.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović has identified the issue of mistreatment and violence against women during reproductive health care and childbirth as the subject of her next thematic report to be presented at the UN the General Assembly in September 2019.

Whilst there is much to celebrate about maternity care in the UK, disrespectful care is still far too common, with women whose life circumstances are more complex, less likely to receive safe and dignified care.

The joint submission to the UN can be found here.

Birthrights and Leigh Day announce three-year partnership to promote women’s human rights in childbirth

Birthrights, the UK’s human rights in childbirth charity, and Leigh Day, a law firm specialising in clinical negligence and human rights, have announced a new partnership over three years, building on previous joint work on specific projects. The new agreement includes a package of corporate financial support, fundraising activity, pro bono and in-kind support, and joint communications and campaigns, to achieve the following goals:

“We believe that too many women in the UK experience maternity care that does not respect their basic rights. Our partnership will help us raise the profile of these issues, campaign together to achieve change and enable Birthrights to reach and support even more women.”

In 2018, Birthrights responded to over 170 email requests from women and their online factsheets were visited over 7,000 times. Qualitative feedback shows women and families highly value this information, support and individual advocacy. The partnership with Leigh Day will help Birthrights to reach even more women and equip them to secure their rights in pregnancy and childbirth.

Chief Executive of Birthrights, Amy Gibbs, said: 

“We have been extremely grateful for the close relationship, pro bono advice and generous support from Leigh Day to date. As a small charity, this additional financial commitment over three years is invaluable. Our new partnership will help us achieve our potential, invest in our core activities and put us on a firmer footing for the future. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to grow the profile and reach of our advice and information for women.”

Suzanne White, Partner and Head of Clinical Negligence at Leigh Day, said:

“We are very proud to support Birthrights, a small but vital charity that has already achieved so much in its first six years. Many of the women Leigh Day supports have had their rights in pregnancy and childbirth violated due to negligence and substandard care, resulting in physical injury, psychological trauma or tragedy. Working together we can raise awareness of these issues and push for positive improvements in maternity care.”

About the partners

Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. We believe that all women are entitled to respectful maternity care that protects their fundamental rights to dignity, autonomy, privacy and equality. We provide advice to women on their rights, train healthcare professionals to deliver rights-respecting care, and campaign to change maternity policy, systems and practice. 

Leigh Day is a specialist law firm with some of the country’s leading clinical negligence, personal injury, employment and discrimination, product liability, international and human rights teams. Unlike other law firms, we act exclusively for claimants who’ve been injured or treated unlawfully by others. We are based in London, Manchester and Liverpool.

Recruiting for Legal Officer – part-time / flexible (2.5 days per week)

£30,000 pro rata – £15,000 actual per annum

Deadline: 5pm on Monday 29 April

Birthrights is looking for a new Legal Officer to help us achieve our mission. If you are a legal expert with strong knowledge of human rights law and maternity care in the UK, practical experience of litigation and a passion for protecting women’s rights, we hope you will apply to join our team.

Birthrights exists because women matter during childbirth. We are the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improve women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. We provide advice and legal information to women, train healthcare professionals to deliver rights-respecting care and campaign to change maternity policy and systems.

Our new Legal Officer will manage and develop our email advice service and online resources, play a core role in our strategic legal and policy work, support the development and delivery of our training and contribute to organisational priorities and development.

Essential criteria include a legal degree or legal professional qualifications, knowledge of human rights law and practical experience of the UK legal system and strategic litigation, knowledge of maternity care policies and practice, excellent communications skills and experience of working in a small team. The ideal candidate will also have experience of providing advice to beneficiaries or the public, knowledge of other relevant UK law, experience of legal policy work and understanding of the issues and context faced by small charities.

Download the job description to see the full list of essential and desirable criteria.

Birthrights values diversity, promotes equality and challenges discrimination in line with our human rights mission. We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds, regardless of their race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age. We encourage applications from women with lived experience of the issues we tackle, particularly those groups most at risk of human rights violations during pregnancy and childbirth – disabled women, women living with severe and complex disadvantage, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women.

Birthrights cautiously welcomes first signs of change to OUH maternal request caesarean policy

Birthrights has written once again to Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) cautiously welcoming moves to review its policy of sending women who ask for a maternal request caesarean to other Trusts.

Lawyers acting for Birthrights wrote to the Trust in July last year, asking detailed questions about how OUH responded to requests from women for a caesarean, where there was no clinical indication (maternal request), after receiving more complaints about OUH’s policy than any other Trust in the country. After a further intervention by our Chair, Elizabeth Prochaska, we received a response in January.

Programmes Director, Maria Booker, commented:

“Although we continue to have concerns that the picture painted by OUH does not match the accounts we have heard from local women, we are nevertheless pleased to hear that OUH is actively consulting its obstetric team, and considering the option of carrying out maternal request caesareans onsite at the John Radcliffe. We urge OUH to follow the example of Birmingham Women’s and others who have worked together with service users and staff to create a policy that puts women’s needs first whilst also respecting the views of staff. We look forward to receiving a comprehensive update on progress.”

The letter sent to OUH on behalf of Birthrights on the 26th March 2019 can be found here and previous correspondence is below:

Letter to OUH sent on behalf of Birthrights July 2018

Response sent on behalf of OUH January 2019

Neighbourhood Midwives

We were very saddened to hear last week about the imminent closure of Neighbourhood Midwives. Neighbourhood Midwives started out as a private, independent midwifery company, but were commissioned by Waltham Forest CCG to offer continuity of care, free of charge, to women as part of a two year pilot following  “Better Births”. Neighbourhood Midwives have been highly valued by the families they care for, and are respected across the maternity community. 


Birthrights contacted Annie Francis, CEO of Neighbourhood Midwives, as soon as we heard the news, to offer our support. Annie recognises that people have lots of questions about what happened last week, and the future implications of this, but has emphasised that her immediate priority and that of her team is ensuring a smooth transfer of care for the women Neighbourhood Midwives have been caring for before Neighbourhood Midwives closes its doors tomorrow.


With that in mind, on Monday our Programmes Director, Maria Booker, spoke to Barts and Homerton NHS Trusts, and also Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group. We have been impressed by the commitment of all those involved, many of whom were just as surprised as everyone else to hear the news, to ensure women do get both the continuity of care and the birth they were promised. Women who are due to give birth before the end of February have been prioritised and it is our understanding that those transfers of care have already happened/are in the process of being completed and remaining women are now being transferred. 


We have responded to all the women who have contacted us about the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives to provide more detailed information about next steps, and to let them know that we are here for them if they need any further assistance or support. This is the information that has been provided by Whipps Cross and Neighbourhood Midwives and our choice of place of birth factsheet . We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure women are receiving the care they expect.


Our Chief Executive, Amy Gibbs, has also contacted Baroness Cumberlege, the Chair of the national maternity review, about the broader concerns raised by the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives.


If you have any concerns about the closure of Neighbourhood Midwives, or would like any assistance or support with your care please contact us on advice@birthrights.org.uk.”

Birthrights responds to the CQC’s national maternity survey

Commenting on the findings of the CQC’s national maternity survey, Amy Gibbs, Chief Executive of Birthrights, said:

“It’s positive that overall 88% of women surveyed felt they were ‘always’ treated with respect and dignity during labour and birth, but other findings highlight areas where maternity care is failing to respect women’s basic rights.

“Every woman has the right to choose where and how she gives birth, yet 15% said they were not offered any choices about where to have their baby and a quarter said they were not always involved enough in decisions about their care during labour and birth.

“Above all, the findings underline how vital continuity of carer is to improving women’s maternity experiences, giving them time and space to ask questions and make decisions that are right for them. We know that seeing the same midwife through pregnancy, birth and afterwards can make all the difference and help ensure safety goes hand in hand with dignity and respect. Yet only 15% of women reported that the midwives who cared for them during labour and birth had been involved in their antenatal care.

“It’s clear we need renewed commitment and drive at national and local levels, to ensure the vision of Better Births is achieved for most women to have continuity of carer by 2021.”

The full findings of the CQC’s maternity survey 2018 can be found here.

Birthrights responds to the NHS Long Term Plan

Responding to the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan today, Amy Gibbs, Chief Executive of Birthrights, said:

“We are really pleased to see improving maternity care at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, particularly the commitment that most women will receive continuity of carer by March 2021. We know that seeing the same midwife through pregnancy, birth and afterwards can make all the difference to women’s experiences and help ensure safety goes hand in hand with dignity and respect. This ambition must be backed up by investment in recruitment, retention and training, so NHS trusts up and down the country can make this pledge a reality for all women and midwifes are equipped to deliver rights-respecting care.

“We also welcome the goal to give more women access to mental health support following birth. In line with the Plan’s general focus on prevention, we would like to see equal effort on doing everything possible to avoid trauma during birth. How women are treated during their pregnancy and childbirth is a major driver for whether they experience trauma, so it is vital that delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan embeds respect for women’s rights to dignity, autonomy, privacy and equality explicitly into maternity care.”

Notes
The new NHS Long Term Plan includes commitments to:
  • reduce stillbirths and mother and child deaths during birth by 50%
  • ensure most women can benefit from continuity of carer through and beyond their pregnancy, targeting those who will benefit most
  • expand support for perinatal mental health conditions

Reflections on 2018

Four weeks into being Birthrights’ new Chief Executive, I’m feeling very lucky to lead such a brilliant organisation and brimming with positivity and ideas for 2019. I’m blessed with a very talented team, engaged and expert Trustees, supportive funders, invaluable partners and a wider enthusiastic pool of people who share our mission to improve women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights.

As 2018 draws to a close, we wanted to share our highlights from the year. And since it’s Christmas, here are our top 12. I’m so impressed by how much has been achieved by our small but perfectly formed team – showing why #smallbutvital charities are so important. Clearly, I can take no credit for these and my thanks goes to the team and my predecessor, Rebecca Schiller, who I’m delighted will be joining the Board of Trustees next year.

In 2018, we’re proud to have:

  1. Launched our biggest campaign yet on the right to maternal request caesarean section
  2. Responded to over 170 email requests for advice from women in need
  3. Seen our online factsheets visited over 7,000 times – a 7% increase on 2017
  4. Delivered 18 speaking engagements or training sessions to healthcare professionals
  5. Strengthened our links with NHS England, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives, General Medical Council, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
  6. Engaged with the Maternity Transformation Programme Stakeholder Council and numerous NICE consultations
  7. Secured a new grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to expand our team and impact
  8. Progressed our Baring Foundation and Trust for London funded work on women with complex needs
  9. Welcomed new team members, trustees, Associate Trainers and accountants on board
  10. Improved our financial systems and capacity to report on budgets and grants
  11. Deepened our partnership with Leigh Day and explored other corporate partnerships
  12. Continued our crucial collaborative relationships with Birth Companions and BPAS

And much more besides… Merry Christmas and thank you to all our funders, supporters and partners – I look forward to meeting and working with you in 2019!

Recruiting new Legal Officer

Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights.

The Legal Officer is a new and critical role at Birthrights to manage our advisory and legal work, including running the advice service, overseeing strategic litigation and providing legal policy input with core stakeholders.

This is a part-time home based role, with a pro-rata salary of £15,000. To find out more and how to apply please download the Job Description.

Closing date for applications is 5pm on Wednesday 27th June 2018.